Districts in northern Hampshire are exploring the possibility of creating a unitary after lack of progress with creating a combined authority in the county.
A report for Basingstoke & Deane BC’s cabinet next Tuesday recommends it “further explore options for becoming a unitary authority, either in isolation or preferably in partnership with neighbouring authorities”.
These would be Hart DC and Rushmoor BC, creating a council covering a population of 363,000 people. Communities secretary Sajid Javid said in November that the Department for Communities & Local Government “typically look for” proposals for unitary councils to represent “anywhere between 300,000 and 800,000” people.
The report by Basingstoke & Deane’s leader Clive Sanders (Con) said it was “probable that the current two-tier system of local government will become unsustainable in the medium term”. He added: “We have to start the process of change now to avoid collapse and or a panic reaction in a few years’ time.”
Cllr Sanders’ report warned “unitarisation comes with costs and some risks and is not quick or easy to achieve”. The report said creating a combined authority could provide a “much more immediate solution” to its fears about long-term sustainability.
But he said a combined authority should cover only the Heart of Hampshire area (see box), not the whole county.
Cllr Sanders said there was “little mutual interest between those [councils] in the north and those in the south of the county”, and that a Hampshire-wide combined authority, as advocated by the county council, could see his residents “subsidising the services of those on the south coast”.
Two combined authorities, one for Heart of Hampshire and one for Solent, would better reflect common interests but “firstly, the county council has to agree to participate, and currently, they have not done so”, Cllr Sanders said.
Rushmoor’s leader David Clifford (Con) said: “We have a preference for a combined authority and see the county as friends not enemies.
“We’d look at a unitary, but we are not getting a clear message from government.”
Hart’s leader Stephen Parker (Con) said: “There have been discussions but nothing formal, we just talk to our colleagues in other councils.
“Heart of Hampshire has had serious discussions but the county council is vehemently against that option, so there matters stand.”
Hampshire has strongly opposed anything that could split the county, leading to an impasse in which other councils will support neither a county unitary nor a Hampshire-wide combined authority and the county will accept nothing smaller.
Portsmouth and Southampton city councils and Isle of Wight Council have explored a combined authority as three unitaries, but political turmoil in the latter may affect this.
Hampshire CC’s leader Roy Perry (Con) has been contacted for comment.
Heart of Hampshire councils
Basingstoke & Deane BC
New Forest DC
Test Valley BC
Winchester City Council
East Hampshire DC
Isle of Wight Council
Portsmouth City Council
Southampton City Council